COMMERCIAL AIRBUS A220
Mark Broadbent provides an update on the Airbus A220 programme
Three years after the Airbus A220, then still the Bombardier C Series, entered airline service with Swiss in mid-2016, a lot has happened in the story of this all-new airliner packed with new technology.
Since its entry into service, the aircraft has been the subject of an international trade spat and seen majority programme ownership passed to Airbus, resulting in its redesignation from C Series to A220.
In the last few weeks, Airbus has announced significant new performance improvements to the aircraft’s payload and range, as it prepares to ramp up production at a new assembly facility later this year.
At the start of June 2019, 85 orders had been received for the A220-100 (with 21 deliveries comprising 13 to Delta Air Lines and eight to Swiss) and 451 orders for the A220- 300 (with 51 delivered, comprising 19 to Air Baltic, two to Air Tanzania, ten to Korean Air and 20 to Swiss).
There are two A220 variants, the 100 to 130- seat A220-100 (formerly the CS100) and 130 to 160-seat A220-300 (formerly the CS300). The A220-100 entered service with Swiss in July 2016, its larger stablemate following with Air Baltic in December 2016.
After several months in service, the aircraft became the subject of a heated trade dispute between the United States and Canada.
In April 2017, Boeing filed a complaint with the US Department of Commerce claiming Delta Air Lines’ 2016 order for the aircraft was made possible by Canadian government subsidies enabling Bombardier to dump the aircraft (sell at below-cost prices) to Delta.
The US Department of Commerce sided with Boeing, recommending nearly 300% import duties (an initial 219.6% levy followed a few weeks later by an additional 79.8% duty).
Bombardier and Delta both argued Boeing’s business couldn’t have been hurt, because Boeing didn’t have a product like the C Series.
However, facing the possibility of losing the largest single order in the programme, Bombardier ceded control of its flagship aircraft to Airbus, striking a deal with the European manufacturer shortly after the duties were announced over the sale of a 50.01% majority stake in the programme.
As part of the new C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP), in which Bombardier Inc and Investissement Québec (acting for the government of Québec) hold stakes, Airbus announced plans to undertake production of USbound C Series jets at its existing final assembly line facility at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Alabama, where it has produced A320 Family aircraft since 2015.
Early in 2018, the US International Trade Commission ruled the C Series does not harm Boeing and overturned the Commerce Department decision. The ruling cleared the way for Airbus to conclude taking on the aircraft, and in July 2018 the Bombardier C Series was offcially rebranded as the Airbus A220.
These developments added a new and significant layer to the competition between the two major commercial industry heavyweights, with Airbus bringing under its wing an advanced new product, giving it a larger presence at the lower end of the market for airliners sized between mainline single-aisles and regional jets.
Construction work began on the A220 Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, which will assemble A220s for customers in the United States including the aircraft destined for Delta. The facility is due to begin assembling A220s in Q3 2019, with the first jets scheduled for delivery in 2020.
In a further sign of the A220 becoming a full member of the Airbus family, in late May 2019 the CSALP changed its name to Airbus Canada Limited.
What makes the A220 special?
With all these developments, it is perhaps easy to lose sight of the significance of the aircraft itself.
The A220 is a clean-sheet single-aisle design that brings together a lot of new technology. It has Pratt & Whitney PW1500Gseries geared turbofan engines: the PW1519G on the A220-100 and the PW1521G or PW1524G on the A220-300, which respectively offer up to 18,900lb (84.1kN) thrust and up to 23,300lb (103.6kN) thrust.
Around 50% of the aircraft’s structure is made from carbon fibre composites, including the wings, central wing box, rear fuselage, the full empennage, vertical and horizontal stabilisers, elevators, flaps, spoilers and engine nacelles, with aluminium lithium and titanium accounting for more than 30%. (Steel makes up the remainder.)
These advanced materials, combined with the PurePower turbofans, the aircraft’s aerodynamics and an integrated three-axis fly-by-wire flight control system (which moves the aircraft’s centre of gravity to minimise drag), generate some impressive numbers.
The A220 burns 20% less fuel than comparable previous-generation aircraft,emits 20% less carbon dioxide per seat and 50% less nitrous oxide, and offers 15% lower cash operating costs and 25% lower direct maintenance costs.
Operators also benefit from an Airplane Health Monitoring System (AHMS) that continuously tracks more than 100,000 parameters and provides diagnostic tools to help operators manage maintenance activities to boost reliability and minimise downtime. The AHMS therefore fits nicely into Airbus’ wider, ongoing efforts to use digital tools to help operators improve performance. The company has reported its Skywise big data and analytics products will be available on the A220 in 2020.
Airbus has recently made payload/range performance improvements to the A220 (see Commercial News, this issue). Airbus Head of Product Marketing Single-Aisles Amaya Rodriguez Gonzalez told AIR International the extra range adds to a key strength of the A220, “that it can operate routes not possible before”.
How are A220s used?
The A220 was designed to make it feasible to open and sustain new routes with marginal passenger demand by being large, but not too large, yet still able to fly long range.
Already, some operators have used A220s in this way. Air Baltic has flown A220-300s to Abu Dhabi from its Riga hub and Delta plans to run A220s on some of its longer transcontinental routes across the United States from West Coast destinations and its main hub in Atlanta (its initial aircraft are currently serving destinations from New York Newark).
Other operators plan to use A220s in similar ways. An unnamed United States-based start-up airline with the project name ‘Moxy’ (backed by JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman), which ordered 60 A220-300s last year, has said it is considering new long-haul routes with the aircraft.
Another customer, UK-based startup Odyssey, plans to use the aircraft on transatlantic services from London City (the A220 is cleared for the steep-approach operations there; Swiss already uses A220- 300s to serve the airport from Zurich).
Rodriguez Gonzalez added she also sees potential for A220s to open new similar niche medium to long-haul routes in other markets, “like southeast Asia to Australia, where the range will definitely better link territories”.
Despite the diffculties during the A220’s testing and certification that delayed service entry by more than two years, the A220 has proved a hit with its operators.
Executives from launch operators Swiss and Air Baltic have repeatedly praised the aircraft’s fuel effciency, and earlier this year Delta Chief Executive Offcer Ed Bastian told the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Industrials Conference: “The fuel effciency that we’re replacing, whether it’s regional jetsor even the MD-80s, is coming in at doubledigit improvements.”
A220-100 orders and deliveries
The aircraft’s fuel effciency, seat numbers and long-haul capability simply gives the A220 variants lots of versatility.
The aircraft are clearly ideal for network development, reducing risk on new, thin routes and to give more capacity if it is needed, as Rodriguez Gonzalez explained: “An airline might start [a route] on an A220-100 and then pursue growth with the A220-300.”
This right sizing works the other way, too. As well as serving as a network developer trying out new routes, the A220-100 could be used by a larger network airline looking to adjust capacity on an established route.
Rodriguez Gonzalez explained: “An airline might be operating an aircraft that is a little bit too big for their needs and they want to pinpoint their capacity to the demand they’re seeing and they want to go down a little bit on capacity while ensuring the economics and profitability of the route.”
For example, an airline might be running an A220-300 or even a larger A320-sized aircraft on a service, but find it makes more economic sense to place an A220-100 instead, meaning the carrier can continue with the route, but operate it more economically without losing its presence in the market.
Furthermore, the A220-100 can provide an effcient replacement for regional jets. Rodriguez Gonzalez pointed out Swiss used its early A220-100s (it also operates A220-300s) to replace Avro RJ100s and that JetBlue has ordered 60 A220-300s to replace Embraer E190s.
In short, the A220 variants let airlines do different things. Rodriguez Gonzalez said: “It is only possible because of the economics of the aircraft. You can operate a 3,400 nautical miles sector or you can operate it on a 300 nautical miles sector.”
For passengers an A220 provides a pleasant environment with large windows, 18.5in-wide (457mm) seats as standard in a five-abreast layout, large overhead stowage bins and LED mood lighting. The cabin, Rodriguez Gonzalez said, is: “super-spacious, superbright; it’s really a cabin that has the same standard” as larger Airbus aircraft.
Bastian said: “I think [it] will be the nicest domestic product in the skies …It’s got the widest seats that we have in our domestic fleet [and] widebody windows on a narrowbody chassis, which gives it a much more spacious feeling. When you’re onboard, you think you’re on a larger aircraft.”
The A220-300 with its 130 to 160-seat capacity and 3,350 nautical miles (6,204km) range clearly means the variant sits closely in Airbus’ product portfolio to the A319neo, the smallest A320neo Family member, which offers 120 to 150 seats (two-class) and 3,750 nautical miles (6,945km) range.
Rodriguez Gonzalez acknowledged: “When you compare the A319neo to the economics of the A220-300, the all-new technologies are going to make it more effcient. The A220-300 has lower trip costs than the A319neo.”
A220-100 orders and deliveries
This, and the miniscule A319neo sales relative to the rest of the A320neo Family (35 orders, or less than 0.1%, of the total 6,500- plus aircraft total backlog), inevitably draws a question mark over the A319neo’s future.
However, Rodriguez Gonzalez insisted: “The A319neo is an aircraft we very much see for complicated airports [in China and Latin America]. The A220-300 is for the economics and to grow networks and the A319neo is a very good solution when you operate at very challenging airports with 120 to 160 passengers …It’s true that the A319neo and A220 have a seat count that is very similar, an operator may rather have a six-abreast layout [the A319] for one route and then an A220 [five-abreast] for another route.”
Airbus’ view is the two types complement each other rather than compete. The company offering both shows how the major manufacturers like to offer a spread of products to cater for different markets’ demands, a choice of arrows in the quiver for different operators’ subtly different needs, as it were. Overall, Airbus predicts the 100 to 150-seat aircraft market is estimated to represent at least 7,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.
A further, stretched variant of the A220 offering more seat capacity and cargo payload is possible. From the programme’s earliest days, Bombardier envisioned a third, larger variant seating up to 165 passengers.
A timescale for such a variant (dubbed the A220-500) is uncertain as Airbus prioritises accelerating production of the existing models and opening the Mobile facility, but Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury has said once this is achieved: “It’s very likely that, once the A220 has done the ramp up [and] is economically viable then we can further invest and grow the product.”
Rodriguez Gonzalez said Airbus’ smallest, yet highly versatile, currentproduction twin jet: “offers an extremely good platform for future innovation for which we can extract potential.”
This potential conceivably goes beyond the A220 itself. Majority control of the programme gives Airbus access to the highly advanced process called resin transfer infusion used at the Belfast factory to produce the A220’s allcomposite wing.
This process involves carbon fibre resin being injected into one half of a mould, with the other half covered by a vacuum bag, with the resin then formed in the vacuum bag. This process, which differs from injecting carbon fibre resin into a mould – the more established process of producing carbon fibre – is designed to achieve greater control over the laying-up of composites to create better predictability and repeatability and the ability to produce large composite parts.
This specialist expertise clearly offers big potential for crossing over into new products including, one day, a successor to the A320neo. AI